By LOUISE CARR, Associate Editor and Featured Columnist
Nothing spoils a sunny day more than a hayfever attack. Unfortunately for the almost 25 million hayfever sufferers in the US, this is a regular occurrence in the spring and summer months.
A streaming nose, fits of sneezing and unattractive red eyes signal the arrival of a particularly irritating intruder. Hayfever is no laughing matter.
A bad hayfever attack disrupts your everyday life, decreasing your productivity at work and making it difficult to socialize and relax.
Hayfever medication causes drowsiness and other side effects so the natural approach is preferable, but what works? Which natural remedies really do make a difference to hayfever symptoms?
Who Has Hayfever in the US?
Hayfever, or allergic rhinitis, affects around 8 percent of adults in the US (almost 25 million people) according to the Summary Health Statistics for U.S. Adults: National Health Interview Survey, 2010.
Ten percent of children suffer from hayfever in any given year.
Around the world, this uncomfortable ailment affects between 10 and 30 percent of the population, according to the World Health Organization's White Book on Allergy 2011-2012.
In the UK, for example, one in five people will suffer from hayfever at some point in their life (National Health Service UK). Hayfever usually begins during childhood but it can affect you at any age.
What Are The Symptoms of Hay Fever?
If you're a sufferer you'll recognize the symptoms well - sneezing, itchy eyes, a runny nose, and itchy mouth and throat.
You may also suffer from a cough (caused by the mucus dripping into your throat from the nose), watery and red eyes, loss of your sense of smell, facial pain brought on by blocked sinuses, earache, headache, and tiredness.
What Causes Hay Fever?
Hayfever happens when you have an allergic reaction to pollen. Pollen is a naturally occurring, fine dust like substance plants produce during their reproductive cycle.
The proteins in pollen collect in the cells of your nose, eyes, sinuses and throat and cause them to become inflamed and irritated - this is an allergic reaction.
Pollen and Hayfever
Unfortunately hayfever isn't caused by just one type of pollen, which makes it harder to avoid the trigger for the allergic reaction. According to the National Health Service in the UK, there are 30 different types of pollen that can cause hayfever.
Different pollens are released at different times of the year. For example, hayfever caused by tree pollen affects you during the spring.
Grass pollen is released at the tail end of spring going into summer.
And, weed pollen is around anytime from early spring to late fall.
Depending on the weather, there may be more or less pollen released into the air and on humid and windy days the pollen is much more easily spread.
You can be allergic to more than one kind of pollen. In the UK, 90 percent of people with hayfever are allergic to grass pollen.
Tree pollen affects around 25 percent of hayfever sufferers - the trees mainly responsible include oak, cedar, birch, and ash. Weed pollen comes from ragweed, dock, nettles, and mugwort.
If you are allergic to birch pollen you will probably find that fruit such as apples, plums, peaches and cherries trigger an allergic reaction.
Pollution from cigarette smoke or car exhausts can make your allergy worse.
Is Hayfever Dangerous?
Hayfever may not kill you but it can significantly affect your everyday life. Hayfever may also cause additional complications such as sinusitis (inflammation of the sinuses) or a middle ear infection. If you suffer from asthma, hayfever can make symptoms significantly worse.
As with many allergies and irritations there is currently no cure for hayfever.
But before you lock yourself in a darkened room from spring to early fall, there are treatments and remedies that help relieve symptoms and make life more bearable.
We've looked at the recent scientific evidence to see how hayfever can be treated with natural remedies.
1. Hayfever Enemy Number One --- Butterbur
Much has been written about the herbal remedy butterbur and its effect as a hayfever treatment, with many scientists in agreement that this remedy is definitely worth a try.
A 2004 study from the Allergy Clinic, Landquart, Switzerland demonstrated that butterbur was as effective as antihistamines but didn't cause the same side effects.
The study looked at 186 people taking three tablets of butterbur a day for two weeks. Those taking a high dose saw significantly greater benefits than people taking less, or taking a placebo.
2. Quercetin for Hayfever
Quercetin is a plant pigment that contains flavonoids. Flavonoids are thought to reduce the allergic symptoms of pollen exposure by stopping the affected cells releasing histamine.
Quercetin can be taken as a supplement but it is also present in tea, peppers, and apples.
Various studies in the 1980s including "Flavonoid inhibition of human basophil histamine release stimulated by various agents," Middleton E Jr, Drzewiecki G, 1984, showed quercetin to be the most effective flavonoid. However, these have been test tube studies and not human studies - further research would be useful.
The herb eyebright is also thought to reduce the symptoms of hayfever because it is high in quercetin and also has astringent and anti-inflammatory properties.
3. Take Conjugated Linoleic Acid (CLA) for Hayfever
The supplement known as conjugated linoleic acid (CLA) may benefit hayfever sufferers. A 2008 study from the University of Helsinki, Finland looked at the supplement as a treatment for 40 people with birch pollen allergy and found that conjugated linoleic acid (CLA) offered some benefit as an anti-inflammatory agent in people with allergy-triggered hayfever.
4. Hot Peppers for Treating Hayfever?
It may seem counter-intuitive but a nasal spray containing the substance that puts the heat into cayenne and other hot peppers - capsaicin - supposedly reduces the allergic symptoms of hayfever.
The 2003 study from Erasmus Medical Centre, Rotterdam, The Netherlands looked at 30 patients and found nasal blockage and runny noses were significantly reduced after two weeks' treatment. But beware - as you may expect, researchers had to use local anesthetic in the noses of the patients before the treatment could be administered.
5. The Use of Acupuncture as a Hayfever Treatment
Many people swear by the traditional Chinese treatment of acupuncture to ease hayfever symptoms but is it actually proven to work?
One study from Friedrich-Alexander-University of Erlangen-Nuremberg, Erlangen Germany, 2004 found acupuncture as compared to a fake treatment to be effective and safe for treating hayfever symptoms.
However, other studies have failed to find any significant benefit with real acupuncture as compared to a fake procedure.